FINAL Gray Whale Migration Update: May 9, 2012
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The 2012 spring migration will be a tough act to follow. Records have been set and smashed. More than 200 gray whale mom/calf pairs are on the journey north in a migration season that is truly monumental. Go, whales!

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Gray whale calf shows its baleen.
Photo: Michael H. Smith
Here I Come!
News: A Whale of a Season!
The vanguard of the world's greatest whale parade is plowing in earnest past south-central Alaska, and The 2012 spring migration will be a tough act to follow:

  • May 8: The ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project (Post #6) "smashed" their 28-year record high northbound calf count with their 223rd calf of this season—and more days of counting still ahead!
  • May 7: Gray Whales Count (Post #7) counted their 200th gray whale calf of this season. Compare this to 2010's northbound calf total of 33 for the entire survey and 2011's total of 113. They also set a record on April 27 with 17 calves in a single day.
  • May 5: Scientists at Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Station (Post #8) had already topped last year's total count for cow/calf pairs. On May 8 their total stood at 273 pairs!
  • Tagged whale Varvara ("Barbara" in Russian) has reached Kamchatka (57N, 160E) in the Russian Far East, enabling scientists to make a new discovery.

One word sums up this year's migration: MONUMENTAL! Excitement runs high as the steady cow/calf migration continues to thrill scientists and whale spotters alike.

A whale-sized thanks to contributing scientists Alisa Schulman-Janiger, Michael H. Smith and Wayne Perryman. Your data and observations give us a front-row seat. We are grateful!

Official Calf Count: Scientific Research Site
At Post #8, biologist and cow/calf expert Wayne Perryman celebrates, "It's a good year for recruitment into this population already, and we have three more weeks to go in the survey!" Stay with us! But first:

  • What do you think Mr. Perryman means by recruitment? Upon what does recruitment depend?
  • Why are there so many gray whale babies this year?

Keep Watching!
Journey North will continue to post daily counts for Posts #6 and #7, as well as weekly counts for Post #8 until these official sites have stopped counting for the season. Alisa Schulman-Janiger announced that Post #6 is extending their census until at least May 20: This season there are SO many calves...They are still streaming by, and we do not want to miss them! It is anyone's guess as to how high this record count will go. What an exciting season!"

Map of Varvara's travels as of Feb. 16, 2012.
New Discovery Made!
Breaching baby gray whale
Photo: Michael H. Smith
Breaching Baby
Scientists shown with baleen from a whale
What's This?
200th calf to be counted at Post #7 in spring 2012
Photo:Michael H. Smith
Calf Number 200!
Gray whale migration route
Map: Journey North

Route Map

This week's field notes: Observation Posts #6, #7, #8, #16.
Article: How Do Baby Gray Whales Learn to Eat?
You don't remember, but as a baby you had to learn how to eat solid foods in addition to milk. Do whale babies need to do that too? We were curious, so we asked marine biologist Kim Shelden of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and other experts: How do baby gray whales learn to eat? How can scientists even find out? Here's what they said:
Gray whales eat tiny foods that include amphipods and krill.
Photo: Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary
What Food?
Tracking the Migration: Using Daily Data
"We have passed the peak of our northbound cow/calf migration phase," notes ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger. "Our highest count day was on May 1: we tallied 20 cow/calf pairs! Last season the peak days included just 9 pairs." What comparisons can you make for Post #7 using their data in this year and last year? Share your comparisons with other students and everyone will learn something new. Also predict: If Arctic ice continues to retreat quickly, what will this mean for calf numbers when we track NEXT spring's journey north? (Hint: See Field Notes from Post #8 and Wayne Perryman's study of cow/calf production.)
How to track gray whale migration with Journey North

Gray whale migration analysis chart
Access Data
Record Data
Annual Evaluation: Please Share Your Thoughts
Will you take a few minutes to complete our Year-end Evaluation? With your help, we can we document Journey North's reach, impact and value. We need comments like yours to keep the program going and growing.

Image link to Year-End Evaluation
This is the FINAL gray whale migration update of spring 2012. Data will continue to be posted for Posts #6, #7, and #8 until the migration is complete. You are witnessing a record year for gray whales! Please join us again next spring.